Artemis, the return to the moon and Leonardo’s role in the space program

The best of the space industry are focused on the upcoming lunar missions. An ambitious plan is underway, developed by NASA in collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA), which, 50 years after Eugene Cernan’s last moon walk, will bring humanity back to set foot on our satellite. Starting with a female astronaut.

Not surprisingly, the name chosen by the US space agency for this program is “Artemis”, a goddess of Greek mythology and twin sister of that Apollo who in turn inspired the name of the first American missions to the Moon. Artemis’ goal is to return to our satellite to stay there. The Moon will not only be a point of arrival, but also a point of departure. Because the next step will be testing the technologies needed to carry out human missions to Mars.

A presence on the lunar soil will also be environmentally sustainable and allow research to be conducted to gain useful knowledge about life on Earth. This requires a number of innovative technologies that the collaboration between NASA and ESA can develop through their respective industrial systems.

For Giovanni Fuggetta, Leonardo’s SVP Divisional Space Business following the launch of the first Artemis mission that will take place in a few weeks from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, “it will be a day that will mark the history of space exploration. At that moment we will see the recognition of the effort of around 50 Leonardo engineers and technicians who have created ‘wings’ and electronics units to power the European Orion Service Unit.”

The program

There are many elements that make up the ambitious Artemis program, such as: a launch system (Space Launch System or SLS), the Orion spacecraft which will carry astronauts, a Lunar gatewhich is the seat of the astronauts around the Moon, and a lunar landing system.

The stages envisaged by the program are three and are divided into the following missions:

Artemis I – Includes testing the launch system into space with Orion’s unmanned test flight around the Moon and back. Three launch windows are already planned for this mission, the first on August 29, the others on September 2 and 5. The rocket that will launch the spacecraft into orbit will depart from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39B at Cape Canaveral, just like the Apollo missions. Orion will spend up to six weeks in space, circling the moon and returning to Earth with a landing off the coast of San Diego.

Artemis II – It will perform the first flight test around the Moon with the crew on board. This second mission will serve to demonstrate that Orion’s systems are ready to support astronauts on long-duration missions and allow the crew to practice operations necessary for the success of the next mission.

Artemis III – It will represent the return of humanity to the surface of the Moon, landing the first woman and the next man there.

Leonardo’s contribution

Italy, with the contribution of the Italian Space Agency (ASI), plays a leading role in the Artemis program, in its developments for man’s permanence on the Moon and its next trip to Mars.

At the industrial level, thanks to Leonardo and the joint ventures Thales Alenia Space (67% Thales, 33% Leonardo) and Telespazio (67% Leonardo, 33% Thales), a number of distinct skills are available in the field of infrastructure, robotics, artificial intelligence and connectivity, as well as services and functions that will be of strategic importance to Artemis. A contribution that is spread over the different components of the program.

Orion, the spacecraft, in addition to the capsule that will house the astronauts during the journey, is equipped with ESA’s European Service Module (ESM), the unit that provides electricity, propulsion, thermal control, air and water to the travelers. Leonardo, in the Nerviano factory (Milan), manufactures the photovoltaic panels (PVA) that make up the four “aIi” of the service unit: these measure seven meters each and can provide a total of about 11 kW to power the integrated ELECTRONICS . Also in Lombardy are produced the electronic units (PCDU) used to control and distribute the power on the spacecraft. Thales Alenia Space, on the other hand, took care of the construction of the ESM module structure and critical subsystems – including the micrometeorite protection and thermal control system.

Lunar gate, the space station that will orbit the Moon and that will provide an important support point for new explorers. The Gateway will consist of several pressurized modules where the astronauts will be able to live and conduct their activities. Thales Alenia Space in Turin creates: I-HAB, an international housing unit. ESPRIT, communications and supply module. and finally the main HALO structure, the housing and logistics module.

Space for the future

So far the elements have already been built or are under development for Artemis. Then there are a number of additional components and projects required by the space agencies to create a village (“base camp”) that will provide infrastructure and services to the lunar inhabitants. The goal: to create the best living conditions for those who will travel to the Moon for work or pleasure and for those who will have to leave here on new missions, such as Mars.

“We are proud to be able to support humanity’s vision and ingenuity to create stable communities on the Moon, today with high-tech equipment, tomorrow with robotics, atomic clocks and sensors, technologies that at Leonardo we have been developing for space for over 60 years “ Fuggetta added.

There robotics it will be a central technology to support village construction. Robotic arms and drills will work with algorithms and artificial intelligence to help humans dig and build structures, grow plants, extract and convert substances into water and oxygen or propellant for launches from the lunar soil. Leonardo is a leader in space robotics, having already developed probes for missions to explore a comet, Mars and the Moon itself, and has designed a complex robotic arm for the program Mars sample return.

Thales Alenia Space is studying a “lunar shelter”, the first pressurized outpost that will house astronauts on the surface, as well as modules for transport and logistics: a multi-purpose, flexible and evolving pressurized structure for an ASI study (multi-purpose module – MMP ). In addition to the shelter, the Cislunar Transfer Vehicle (CLTV) and the European Lunar Lander (EL3), both ESA projects that will be able to offer support to the Artemis missions by, for example, the procurement of goods and services.

To carry out all these activities, it will also be necessary to create a network of telecommunications and navigation services that guarantee the continuous contact of astronauts and robotic systems with each other or with control centers, as well as providing accurate positioning on the lunar surface. In this context, Telespazio, at the helm of an international consortium, was selected by ESA for the study of telecommunications infrastructure and lunar navigation. The project is part of the Lunar Communications and Navigation Services (LCNS) initiative of the Moonlight program and, among the requirements, will analyze the possibility of making the system interoperable with LUNANET, the infrastructure that NASA is developing to support the Artemis program.

The infrastructure, services and tools for a permanent presence on the Moon start the “Lunar Economy”, a challenge that Leonardo, with Thales Alenia Space and Telespazio, is ready to exploit and support with its technologies and unified experience of in the service of spacecraft companies around the world.

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